White Men Can’t Jump (2023)

Lame ‘White Men’ remake clangs off the rim

A playground staple, the game of H-O-R-S-E is all about copying shot after shot. You miss, you lose. So it is with the utterly unnecessary remake of “White Men Can’t Jump.” It misses an attempt to replicate the spark and originality of Ron Shelton’s 1992 smash in which Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes dazzled as a pair of hustlers capitalizing on the myth that Caucasians are inferior to Blacks in the anything-goes world of pickup basketball.

Now, as then, the scene is largely L.A.’s Venice Beach, where participants are willing to wager that their talent reigns supreme over all comers in half-court, two-on-two games in which trash talk and intimidation rain down like 30-foot jumpers. Whereas the original possessed the street cred to establish the insults and “your mama’s” as more than braggadocio, this copycat (premiering May 19 on Hulu) is essentially lip service in which first-time director Calmatic (the award-winning video for Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”) throws up bricks.

Not that he has a lot to work with. In revising Shelton’s original script, “Black-ish” veterans Kenya Barris and Doug Hall opt to downplay the comedy in favor of a more “humanistic” story in which stars Jack Harlow and Sinqua Walls are haunted by checkered pasts punctuated by bitter disappointment. Life has not turned out as expected. Self-redemption is their panacea, and piles of hustled cash is their payoff. It’s a bit much and seldom authentic, as they predictably evolve from bitter enemies to besties despite their differences.

What was innovative in 1992, not to mention timely (it arrived almost exactly one year following the video beating of Rodney King by L.A. cops.), now feels obvious and cliched. You can almost see the gears in the screenwriters’ heads gnashing, as they reiterate the already widely accepted fallacy of racial stereotyping. All well and good, but where’s the humor?

Better yet, where’s the sexiness of the original, personified by Rosie Perez’s star-making turn as Harrelson’s “Jeopardy”-loving girlfriend? To her credit, Laura Harrier eschews imitation, but she’s so dull as the exasperated lover of Harlow’s Jeremy, that she barely registers. Gone is the “Jeopardy” obsession, replaced by … well, nothing. All we know about her Tatiana is that she’s an aspiring dancer fed up with Jeremy’s inability to grow up and leave behind his faded basketball dreams.

Walls’ Kamal has even more pressing domestic woes in the form of a wife (Teyana Taylor) sacrificing her ambition to own a hair salon to support her hubby’s drive to atone for an ugly incident in college that rendered him a pariah so vile the NBA won’t touch him. Then there’s Kamal’s dad, Benji (the late Lance Reddick from “The Wire”), a LaVar Ball-type once prone to overhyping his then high-schooler son via showboating stunts performed live on “Sportscenter.”

It’s just too much for one little dramedy to contain. Worse, it distracts from its strength, which is the spectacularly filmed action on the concrete courts of a Los Angeles moviegoers seldom see, like Watts. When the focus remains on the game and the duplicity

of hustling, “White Men Can’t Jump” is a riveting spectacle of a sport at its most basic. It’s a child’s game played by men who are still children, desperately clinging to a fast-fading youth while coming to the harsh realization that not all dreams come true.

At times it’s affecting, but mostly, it’s a whole lot of air balls thrown up willy-nilly. But kudos to Harlow, a curly-maned rapper-turned-actor who oozes charisma and plenty of potential, if presented with better material. He looks marvelous tooling around L.A. in his vintage Porsche 911. Alas, his white man may be able to jump, but he can’t win; not when the movie he’s in is consistently resigned to playing from behind.

Movie review

White Men Can’t Jump

Rated: R for language and some drug material

Cast: Jack Harlow, Sinqua Walls, Teyana Taylor, Laura Harrier and Lance Reddick.

Director: Calmatic

Writers: Kenya Barris and Doug Hall, based on Ron Shelton’s original story

Runtime: 100 minutes

Where to see: On Hulu

Grade: C

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